Brilliant Books 2021: Bob Hoose’s Year-End Picks

blog top 12-17 - 2021 Year-End Picks: Books

As you may well have noticed, this is a new Year-End Pick category for Plugged In. It’s not that we haven’t been reviewing books over the last decade or so, it’s just that books tend to slide into the background and sit on the shelf sometimes—just like they do on the shelves at your house. So, we figured it’s time to grab several books worth highlighting from the last year and give your young readers some good suggestions, too.

We generally choose books for young adults and younger that have gotten lots of attention or maybe picked up some awards over the year. And, of course, we throw in a classic novel once in a while just for fun, too. So, lets look at five books from 2021 that you and yours might enjoy.

Image of the book cover for "A Gentle Tyranny."
A Gentle Tyranny by Jess Corban book cover.

A Gentle Tyranny

by Jess Corban (ages 13 to 18):

What if male physical abuse and social domination could be eliminated? If a few surreptitious medicinal tweaks could turn men from “Brutes” to “Gentles,” would it be worth it? In the year 2267, 17-year-old Reina Pierce doesn’t really have to ask those questions. It’s already happened. But as she learns more about how the world used to be, she starts to wonder if the ends really justify the means?

This young-adult-to-adult read is a very nice and well-written book that weaves some lightly veiled questions into its tale that seemed plucked right out of todays culture conversations. We’ve got a review for the sequel, A Brutal Justice, too. Some sci-fi violence in the mix.

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a True Story)

by Daniel Nayeri (ages 12 to 18):

With the flair of a Persian myth, Everything Sad is Untrue: (A True Story) is an autobiographical novel of a middle schooler’s family’s flight from Iran. With a death threat on their heads for being Christians, they become refugees, eventually making a new life in America.

You don’t often find solid YA books that are funny, award winners and have spiritual, faith-in-Jesus underpinnings. And this one has all three.

Image of the cover of the book "Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story)."
Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri book cover.
Wink by Rob Harrell book cover.


by Rob Harrell (ages 12 to 15):

Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal kid who makes it through seventh grade as best he can—hoping to hang out with best friends, avoid a bully and quietly crush on the prettiest girl in school. But then he finds out he has a rare kind of eye cancer. He becomes the “cancer kid” who has to get radiation blasts, wear a goofy hat and walk around with a semi-permanent right-eye wink. Well, so much for normal.

This is probably the funniest and most thought-provoking book about a kid with cancer you’re likely to read. Wink ushers young readers into an experience they may never have thought much about. There is a strong current of love and friendship that carries the story to its conclusion. 

Amari and the Night Brothers

by B.B. Alston (ages 8 to 12):

Twelve-year-old Amari is super worried about her missing older brother, Quinton. On top of that, she loses her school scholarship that covers a tuition her mom can’t afford to pay. But then she receives a mysterious package—sent from Quinton himself—that invites her to spend the summer at … a magical training camp!

If you can get into a tale that feels like a youthful cross between the Harry Potter books and the movie Men in Black, well, this is a solid pick. While it does contain magical elements, this book’s broad fantasy approach can certainly be used to introduce kids to the negative impact of bullying, prejudice and racism.

Amari and the Night Brothers book cover
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston book cover.
breathing underwater book
Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen book cover.

Breathing Underwater

by Sarah Allen (ages 10 to 14):

Thirteen-year-old Olivia and her older sister Ruth are taking a cross-country road trip—the reverse of the trip that the two took three years before when their family moved to Tennessee. Olivia is working hard to recapture all the incredible fun they had on that treasure-hunting and goofy picture-snapping excursion. In fact, it’s really important that she does. Ruth has been struggling with difficult bouts of depression lately, and fun sister times have been hard to come by.

Breathing Underwater talks openly, but delicately, about the challenge of navigating mental illness and, specifically, depression. On top of that, it’s funny, sweet and well written. A very nice read to swim through.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.

2 Responses

  1. -The only books I got this year were the two Stephen King novels, Later and Billy Summers, and in my opinion they’re two of his very best. Billy Summers in particular shattered my emotions and really made me think. And of course being a Shakespeare fanatic I’d highly recommend any teenager with an open mind to dip their toes into the writing of the world’s best author since God himself.

    And even though I haven’t read it yet I know Mitch Albom released a new book this year and if it’s even half as good as his previous output I’m sure it’s wonderful too.

  2. -I completely appreciate these YA book reviews for quality and clean books for that difficult in-between age and really, that weird book category, that is so challenging to navigate.